Montana demographic census map
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The Montana Republican Party will not mount a legal challenge to the redistricting plan adopted by the state’s Districting and Apportionment Commission earlier this year, state GOP chairman Don “K” Kaltschmidt said last weekend. 

Kaltschmidt, speaking following his election to a third term as chair at the party’s officers’ convention on Saturday, said Republicans will focus on defeating U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in 2024, not on litigating the redistricting plan. 

“We looked at our legal options, and we felt that it would be a distraction seeing how this ’24 cycle is going to be a big thing with Sen. Tester’s re-election attempt,” he said. “And we want to stay focused on that.”

The Districting and Apportionment Commission took its final vote on new state House and Senate districts in February, with nonpartisan Chair Maylinn Smith breaking a tie in favor of the five-person commission’s two Democrats and concluding a redistricting cycle that began back in 2019.

“I didn’t see any sense in drawing it out longer,” Smith said at the time. 

The new House and Senate districts, which will take effect in the 2024 election cycle and remain in place through 2032, are the product of reams of public comment — including from the Legislature — and months of pitched negotiations between the commission’s partisan members.  As the process became final, Kaltschmidt and other Republicans said they were considering litigation. 

The House plan divides Montana’s approximately one million people into 100 roughly population-equal districts, about 60 of which, in an average election year, favor Republicans to varying degrees, with the remainder favoring Democrats. The 50 Senate districts, which each comprise two adjacent House districts, would yield proportionally similar outcomes in that theoretical political environment. A handful of potentially competitive districts would exist in each chamber.

Republicans currently hold two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, so the new maps could — in theory — cost them a handful of seats in upcoming elections, though they likely would allow the GOP to maintain a sizable majority. 


Democratic commissioners Kendra Miller and Denise Juneau set out to create a plan that yielded a legislative split in rough proportion with the average breakdown of voters statewide over the last several elections, while still following the basic criteria laid out in the Montana Constitution — namely, population equality, compactness and contiguity of districts. But their Republican counterparts, Dan Stusek and Jeff Essmann, contended that the Democrats drew maps with a political outcome in mind at the expense of maximizing compactness and other criteria. Republicans also criticized the map for featuring long districts in Montana cities that mix Democratic urban areas with more Republican-leaning suburban and rural areas. 

Those concerns fueled the threat of a possible lawsuit.

“A major constitutional flaw with this map is it involves the treatment of suburban and rural voters differently depending on which city they happen to live around,” Essmann said in February.

But Kaltschmidt said last weekend that the party is no longer considering litigation — and he thinks Republicans will still perform well in the new districts. 

“We also feel that even though we do feel that we were cheated, that we do feel that it was wrong for the commission to rule the way it did on that, we do think that we’ll probably do better than what a lot of people might think,” he said. 

Miller told Montana Free Press Thursday that the map is “the product of consensus criteria, extensive public input and deep compromises amongst members of the commission.” She maintained throughout the redistricting process that Democrats were willing to compromise, but wouldn’t do so just to give the GOP more seats. 

“It is also unquestionably consistent with every aspect of current redistricting law,” she said. “It was always pretty absurd for those on the fringes who wanted to gerrymander the state to suggest differently. It’s unsurprising that Republican leadership came to the conclusion that it’s not in the best interests of our state to waste taxpayer money on a lawsuit that would ultimately fail.” 

Stusek said Thursday that he also isn’t surprised by the party’s decision not to challenge the map.

“It would always have been an uphill battle,” Stusek told MTFP. “It’s unfortunate that the spirit of the Constitution wasn’t followed regarding either a good-faith effort between the parties to select a chair or draw districts that didn’t discriminate against communities and treat them differently based on political persuasion.”

The GOP has been critical of the maps produced by the last several redistricting commissions, in part because of those spindly districts in urban areas. The chair sided with Democrats to break stalemates and approve a final legislative plan both in the 2000 and 2010 redistricting cycles — though that hasn’t stopped Democrats from losing considerable ground in the Legislature in recent elections. 

Kaltschmidt said he believes Montana voters need to amend the state Constitution and change the redistricting process. Republicans in the Legislature this session brought forth a measure that would ask voters whether to amend the Constitution to forbid the redistricting commission from using political data when drawing maps, among other stipulations, but that effort failed. Constitutional amendment proposals referred by the Legislature require 100 votes across both chambers, a tall order even with a two-thirds supermajority. Other ideas floated by the GOP range from requiring legislative approval of a redistricting plan to using an algorithm to draw maps.

“We do feel like our counterparts have too much power in this process, and we’d like to see it be more in the middle,” Kaltschmidt said.


Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed.